Soliciting scanner software suggestions.
March 21, 2010 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Any recommendations for scanning / PDF management software for my Mac that is cheap or, better yet, free?

I recently got a Brother DCP-7030 scanner in the interest of scanning, rather than photocopying, academic articles and such as I work on my dissertation. It's great, but when it scans things, it just creates a PDF image. I'm wondering if there are any free programs that will let me scan PDF files that are searchable and that I can highlight and copy/paste text from, for notetaking purposes.

Bonus points if there is free/cheap software that also will let me organize things. Devonthink Pro Office does all this but at $150 it is well beyond my graduate student price range, and it has a lot of features that I would probably never use. It's just overkill for my purposes. But is there anything similar that will let me create searchable PDFs without an enormous price tag?
posted by synecdoche to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
To organize, tag, and browse PDFs: I really like Yep.

To make searchable/copyable text out of the scanned images: what you're looking for is called OCR software; it tends either to come bundled with scanners or cost a fair amount of money.
posted by RogerB at 2:09 PM on March 21, 2010

Papers is good for organizing pdfs and they are also searchable this way -- it is not more than $40 and I got it with a student discount for ~$22. You can copy text from it to a limited degree but it struggles somewhat with columns, which most journal articles have. THere is a free trial version that you might want to check out. THey are continually improving the program and it may be better than what I remember.

Elsewhere, I believe that pdfs are searchable using Adobe though on Macs, at least. Skim is free and lets you highlight text. I don't know how it is for copying/pasting.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 2:18 PM on March 21, 2010

Best answer: The term you need to start searching for a way to convert scanned images into text is "optical character recognition," or OCR.

I can't vouch for any of the resources I've found, but it seems like there are quite a few projects going that are ported to Windows and to Linux but not OS X. You could try those out if you have an easy recourse to running either on your mac.

There is VelOCRaptor, which is for OS X 10.5 and up and available for $29.00, but with a free trial. I think I'll be giving it a try myself.

I also found an online OCR resource, OCR Terminal. Again, not free, but possibly worth a look. Also has a free trial available.

I was going to mention Papers too, but that's already been covered.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:44 PM on March 21, 2010

Papers is good, but the lack of any highlighting ability, and the poor way in which notes are dealt with, is seriously annoying to me. Essentially, your PDF becomes read-only. Good for organisation though.

Preview (as in the program included with OSX!) lets you note on PDFs and highlight (Tools > Annotate), but I find it a bit clunky to do so. I prefer Skim.
posted by djgh at 3:05 PM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far.

I'm not terribly interested in annotating PDFs; my main interest is in creating (and organizing) scanned, searchable PDFs from which I can copy and paste text.

My scanner does have OCR software but it just produces a (not very comprehensible) text file. I'd like to keep the formatting and look of the original files as much as possible rather than having a raw text dump. It is entirely possible that I'm not using the software correctly, though. The program it comes with is called PageManager.
posted by synecdoche at 4:22 PM on March 21, 2010

I haven't used it myself, but based on this description, PageManager seems to be able to do what you want. Look for the setting that produces "text under image" PDFs, where the OCRed text is a layer underneath the original scanned image.
posted by RogerB at 4:57 PM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: Unfortunately, the scanner came with the previous version of PageManager, which doesn't seem to have that capability. Ugh.
posted by synecdoche at 5:22 PM on March 21, 2010

Have you ever used Evernote, a notetaking application? The premium account, which costs $45 a year, converts your PDFs into searchable ones with copy & paste functions. The awesome thing about evernote is that you can access your documents anywhere, and they have some great mobile apps that make note retrieval a snap.
posted by colorproof at 6:22 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ultimately, VelOCRaptor seems to do what I want, when it comes to converting PDFs to PDF+text. I'm still testing different managers but for now I'm sticking to Scrivener, mainly because I'm hesitant to change horses midstream. Thanks for the advice, everyone.
posted by synecdoche at 7:03 AM on March 27, 2010

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